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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Chronicles of Riddick

The big budget sequel to Pitch Black

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 11, 2004 -- “The Chronicles of Riddick” is a big budget sequel to the small budget hit science fiction film “Pitch Black,” a film that helped to catapult action hero Vin Diesel to stardom. The sequel, like most sequels, is not as good as the original film, but it does have a complex story, some interesting characters, and it looks great, with innovative special effects and top notch production design.

The basic story is very similar to some Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard (three of these were made into movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger). The idea is that you have a barbarian, an outsider who comes in to defeat evil using his warrior skills, courage and cunning. Being a barbarian, he has not been corrupted by civilization. He has his own code of honor, which may be heartless by our standards, but is more honorable than the brutal code of the evil empire he is fighting. While the Conan stories were set in the past, and involved fantasy, “Riddick” is futuristic and involves science fiction. Although ray guns are used in the action sequences, when push comes to shove, it gets back to knives, spears and battle axes, much like the medieval weapons used by Conan.

The story picks up several years after the events told in “Pitch Black.” Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel of “The Fast and the Furious”) is summoned from exile to meet with a member of a mysterious, ethereal race called Elementals. The Elemental called Aereon (Judi Dench of “Die Another Day”) tells Riddick of a prophecy that he, one of the last members of a race known as Furyans, is destined to do battle with the dreaded Necromongers, led by a powerful half-ghost Lord Marshal (played by Colm Feore of “The Sum of All Fears”). The Necromongers are true believers, sweeping through the universe like a plague of locusts, devouring worlds, killing all who will not convert to their religion. There is a chilling similarity between the Necromongers and the Islamic hordes that conquered a large part of the Mediterranean area starting in the Seventh Century A.D. The Necromongers are also similar to the Crusaders who later invaded the Middle East from Europe.

Riddick has another set of enemies besides the Necromongers, they are the Mercs, who are bounty hunters. There is a price on Riddick's head and the Mercs are after him. Another subplot features a possible romantic relationship between Riddick and Kyra (played by Alexa Davalos, whose tough personae is reminiscent of Michelle Rodriguez). Kyra is another holdover from “Pitch Black,” where her character was called “Jack.” Another subplot has a Lady MacBeth-type character, Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton of “Mission Impossible II”) urging her Necromonger husband, Vaako (Karl Urban of “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”), to kill Lord Marshall and become the head of the Necromongers.

As you can tell by all the sub-plots, the story is complicated. It is also slow-moving, because Riddick, being an anti-hero, requires a lot of plot manipulations to force him to do the heroic thing. The story tries to have it both ways, really. Riddick is, in fact, a hero, but he is also portrayed as an anti-hero. He makes a lot of anti-heroic noises about leaving the helpless people being attacked by the Necromongers to their fate. He says he could care less, but he does care. He does end up fighting for them in his own way. While the motivations of many people in the story are clear, Riddick remains a mystery right to the end. He is a wild card. I liked the Shakespearean sub-plot with the scheming Dame Vaako and her husband. The villain, Lord Marshal, is very mysterious. He has the ability to move at high speed and to kill people by ripping the souls from them. How he does this is not explained, but he is said to have gotten these powers by visiting the “Underverse,” a mysterious realm which is a central element of the Necromonger religion.

The film also has spectacular sets and fantastic production design, reminiscent of the extravagant sets and design of “Dune.” The film's fascinating design helps greatly to make the viewer feel he has been transported to other worlds. The design of the three-faced spaceships, while impressive, does not look very practical. The special effects in the film are also quite effective. A lot of heat-shimmering effects are used for various flying craft. The Lord Marshal's soul-grabbing and motion-blurring effects are great. There are spectacular effects creating the illusion of rapid heating on a Mercury-like planet where the temperature increases from 300 degrees below zero to 700 degrees above zero when the sun rises each day. This is a film with very solid production values.

Although the film is great to look at, and it has a complex story with complex characters, it is after all, not a compelling story because too much of it is left unexplained. The motivations of the characters are largely mysterious, so they appear lightweight. The characters are unable to carry much narrative weight, so the story wanders a lot and never really seems to get on track. Perhaps if Riddick had a better motive for being heroic, the story would have gathered some momentum. As it is, the story seems to progress very haltingly, like the flight of a butterfly.

I'm still convinced Vin Diesel is a good actor and can carry a major action movie, as he did with “The Fast and the Furious,” but he is not strong enough to carry films with weak screenplays, such as this film, “XXX” and “A Man Apart,” his last two lackluster films. He needs to find new projects with better screenplays. Newcomer Alexa Davalos does a good job as the tough girl in the film, and Thandie Newton sparkles as the Lady MacBeth bad girl. Karl Urban is effective as the Othello-like character who is noble, but is easily manipulated by his wife.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)